In my garden, the arrival of late August is also the arrival of the dry bean harvest. As the pods of our mature bean plants dry on the vine and begin to show signs of cracking open, we feverishly harvest them before any of the beans are lost.
Although there are many differences between the two, growing dry shelling beans is just as rewarding as growing fresh snap beans. Both types of beans are the same species of plant, Phaseolus vulgaris, it’s just that snap beans come from varieties selected and bred to have the best pod flavor and texture when harvested in a fresh state, while shelling beans are varieties with seeds that can be dried and stored for a long time. Some of the best beans for drying have pods that are too stringy or distasteful for fresh consumption, but others have tasty pods if picked young.
To grow dry shelling beans, begin by selecting a variety appropriate to your region. Here in our USDA zone 6 garden, we grow a cannellini bean called Lingot. It’s a beautiful white kidney bean with a texture we love. Each 8-inch-long pod contains numerous seeds, and the bush-type plants are quite prolific. We also love a black bean called Black Coco that makes a great black bean soup. A third favorite is a gorgeous black and white bean called Yin Yang. The flavor is very mild, and they look so beautiful on the plate. There are dozens of dry shelling bean varieties—from the red and white Jacob’s Cattle and the red kidney, short-season Vermont Cranberry to the speckled Quincy Pinto. There are so many to try before picking your favorite!
Dry shelling beans are grown just like fresh snap beans are: The difference is in the maturity of the plants at harvest. For the best dry beans, harvest the pods when they’re almost completely brown and the pods are just starting to crack open. Ninety percent of the bean plants’ leaves should be dead at harvest time.
Plan to harvest your dry shelling beans during dry weather. If the long-range forecast is calling for a lot of rain, I pull up the plants, pods and all, and hang them up in the garage to finish drying.
Once I remove the dried pods from the plants, I let them spread them out and let them sit in a single layer for another week or two, until the pods are crispy. Then, I remove the seeds from the pods either by hand, for small harvests, or by rolling the pods around in a wide basket and crushing them with my gloved hands, sifting out the beans as I go.
Once all the beans are removed from the pods, I further dry the beans by spreading them out on screens and putting them in a cool, dry room for another week. Once they’re fully dry, I put each variety in a sealed screw-top jar with a packet of silica gel to absorb any remaining moisture. I label the jars and store them in the kitchen cabinet, and we enjoy the beans all winter long.
Folks who’ve grown dried beans in the past and had trouble with bean weevils destroying the beans in storage, before putting the beans in jars, place them in the freezer for two weeks. This kills the weevils and keeps them from beating you to the dinner table.